A Mississippi Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that a thirty-eight-year-old Mississippi man would spend the rest of his life in prison because he had less than two ounces of cannabis in his possession. Stating that the sentencing judge “followed the letter of the law,” the six judges who ruled against Allen Russell’s appeal have clearly demonstrated that there is no justice in the War on Drugs, even when the substance possessed is merely cannabis.
A simple possession charge in Mississippi would normally be punished with three years in jail, which is ridiculous in its own right. Still, prosecutors decided to enhance Russell’s sentence because of past convictions.
Under the habitual offender statute, anyone with two previous felony convictions, if at least one of those convictions was deemed violent, can receive a life sentence without parole after being convicted of a third felony. Russell was arrested with 1.54 ounces of weed, a reasonable amount to possess for personal use.
While Russell’s life sentence is appallingly severe, it is not uncommon in Mississippi. College law professor Matt Steffy called the ruling a travesty. “This to me is a familiar story that’s no less shocking and horrible just because it’s familiar to the point of almost being routine,” said Steffey.
But it is evident to anyone paying attention that the way prohibition is waged in Mississippi and other states is racially unjust. Black men comprise only 13% of the state’s population, but those serving sentences of 20 years or more in Mississippi prisons under the habitual offender statute are 75% black.
Russell, a black man, had previous felony convictions of house burglary and being a felon in possession of a gun. However, he technically had not been accused of committing any violent acts.
Communities of color are still disproportionately profiled, targeted, and prosecuted for cannabis offenses. It is time to end the racist Drug War and remove cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act. No American should ever receive a life sentence because they had some weed on them.
Feature Photo Credit: Kindel-Media
Vivian McPeak is a Seattle-based social justice activist, media personality, and writer. Vivian spent nearly three decades as the president of Seattle Events, a Non-Profit Organization, producer of the Seattle HEMPFEST®, the world’s largest annual cannabis policy reform rally. The recipient of the High Times Magazine 2012 Lester Grinspoon Lifetime Achievement Award and DOPE Magazine 2016 Emery Award for lifetime achievement, in 2016 Vivian was named one of the “50 Most Influential People” by Seattle Magazine. Vivian has appeared on numerous television and cable news networks, including FOX News, CNN, & NBC. McPeak is the host of Hempresent, a weekly radio podcast on Cannabis Radio with listeners on multiple continents.